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Helping Hand - International Rhino Foundation and Cincinnati Zoo

courtesy of Nik Lacchin

Today we continue our ongoing series within Helping Hand about the rapidly escalating rhino extinction crisis, a poaching epidemic that has reclassified the rhinoceros as among the most vulnerable animals on earth. Brutal killings of two to three animals happen every day; without immediate intervention, wild rhinos are forecast to be wiped from the planet, almost entirely due to demand for rhino horn in just two countries: Vietnam and China. In this second installment of our series, HPR ATC Host Dave Lawrence speaks with experts from the International Rhino Foundation and the Cincinnati Zoo


The numbers are staggering. In 2007, a reported 14 rhinos were poached. By last year, that number had surpassed 1500, a 6000% percent increase in only seven years, called genocide by conservationists who warn the rhino could be extinct in the wild in a decade. Teams of poachers are assaulting another rhino every seven to eight hours somewhere in the world, with South Africa the heart of the conflict, and home to the bulk of the world’s rhino population, some 20 to 25,000 animals. The killing is like something out of a horror movie: poachers shoot a rhino, critically injuring but not killing it, before hacking the horn from the wounded creature, who often survives for days in a state of unimaginable agony. The ongoing assault has left the rhino’s protectors overwhelmed and under equipped.

Credit courtesy Saving the Survivors
Hope the rhino poaching survivor sits at the Saving the Survivors facility in South Africa. Despite a horrific poaching attack that left her entire sinus cavities exposed and a gaping wound several inches across, she has gone on to become a symbol for the rhino poaching epidemic. Cared for by Dr. Johan Marais and a team of others volunteering to conduct numerous surgeries to close the wound, their effort has been joined by supporters from around the world donating advanced medical supplies.

These violent, torturous killings are driven by consumers of rhino horn in Vietnam and China, who either buy into a false belief the horn has medicinal properties, or more bizarrely, use it as a "status symbol" in tea and other means to appear as part of some upper society culture. This unprecedented wave of violence goes on despite scientific evidence the horn is made of keratin, the same substance in hair and fingernails. The consumers in Asia are either unaware of the damage being done, or in complete disregard for it, as the carnage has led to an all-out war between the crime syndicates conducting the poaching, and the increasingly heavily armed rangers desperately trying to protect the animals.

One of the official Rhino Protection Unit's paid for by the International Rhino Foundation. Teams like this protect the critically endangered Sumatran rhinos living at the Sumatran Rhino Sanctuary where seven of these rare animals live: Harapan, his brother Andalas, his two babies, Andatu and the as-yet unnamed baby girl, mother Ratu, and females Rosa and the eldest rhino there, female Bina.

There are highly organized crime syndicates fueling the poachers on the ground, and on the other side, concerned citizens from around the world pouring in funds. The efforts go toward many methods of defending the rhinos in what is a very complex story. Funds are used to arm rangers with heavy weapons and technology, including drones, helicopters and modern detection systems using revolutionary techniques, with companies like Cisco getting deeply involved. There are actual special forces military troops engaging in battle to defend wildlife in Africa. It's hard to imagine the firepower needed, and even specially trained dogs that leap from helicopters, to defend what in some ways is a cow with a large fingernail growing from its head, under withering attack from gangs using automatic weapons. The funding to protect the animals primarily comes through donations, and from individuals ratcheting up pressure on their governments to get more deeply involved, financially contributing toanti-poaching efforts or dedicating military personnel and technology toward what in many respects is deadly combat. There have been numerous rangers killed defending animals across Africa: over one thousand since 2003 according to some accounts, and a South African government helicopter dedicated to anti-rhino poaching activities was fired upon, taking the situation to another level of danger. 

Credit Stephen Belcher/Canon/IRF/YABI
Proud Sumatran rhino mother Ratu relaxes with her still unnamed baby girl under around the clock security at the Sumatran Rhino Sanctuary, funded by the International Rhino Foundation.

Learn more how you can help via the International Rhino Foundation website. See a success story in their work, the birth of a rare Sumatran rhino, below, the second from proud mother Ratu. Learn more about the crisis via the powerful video documentary, also below. Many non-profits are dedicated to fighting the crisis. Some of the things that are going on include efforts at training and arming the rangers and troops protecting the rhinos with more sophisticated equipment that's privately donated like Howard Buffet made happen through his $24 million contribution, informing animal lovers across the world what's happening that's led the rhino to become among the most vulnerable animals, educating the people of Vietnam and China about the extinction-level impact consumption of rhino horn is causing, relocating the animals to create insurance populations that can be more easily protected without the risk of nearby poverty increasing the risk of poaching, caring for the orphaned baby rhinos often found on the edge of death with complicated injuries, rehabilitating poaching survivors with even more severe injuries, rhinos that somehow survived the horrific attack who are being cared for by vets volunteering to treat them, utilizing groundbreaking techniques. If you're on Twitter, the Rhino Extinction Crisis list has news updates from many of the major sources of news about the crisis. 

International Rhino Foundation's Dr. Susie Ellis and Cincinnati Zoo's Paul Reinhart May 2016 complete
Cincinnati Zoo's Dr. Terri Roth complete May 2016 interview

See video of the recent birth of a rare Sumatran Rhino in May 2016 at the Sumatran Rhino Sanctuary:

See a recent documentary illustrating the dramatic conflict occurring now in South Africa between the poachers and rangers:

Hear part one in our ongoing series.

Hear our report on Sumatran rhino Harapan's historic journey to his ancestral homeland. 

Dave Lawrence is the local host of All Things Considered, Road Stories (formerly Off the Road), and Stargazer.
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